Christmas journal

I aim to return to the longer piece, my reaction to the election in the UK, and currently have the last (though perhaps not the final) section copied into Emacs where I have worked on it only a couple of times over it for the last couple of weeks. For now though, hungover again, I would like to return to my previous idea of using Plastic Paddy to simply throw out some ideas as I mentioned in a post some time back. We got back from a spa town, Mariánské Lázně, on the West last night, having gone over by train the day before to see Woodstock's grandparents. As is typical (and necessary), we got out for a while both days, walking around the woods she knew as a kid, and sampling the famed spa waters. The woods remind me of North Wales. The climate of Mariánské Lazně is fairly wet for and there is a thick covering of vivid green moss on the ground beneath the spruce trees. Mushrooms grow in the late summer and autumn and Woodstock's grandparents go out to collect them. Having got back we went out for a walk and a smoke, I put on some records and then Woodstock got out a couple of shot glasses and began to pour us some slivovice. On the train home, she had listened to Bandcamp weekly and read a magazine, Full Moon, I had organised a subscription to as a present from my mum. I had read a Czech newspaper, Deník N, an interview special, spending much of the two hour journey going over an interview with Czech jazz musician, Dan Bárta. We had seen Bárta in concert at the Akropolis in Žižkov when I had come back from a summer in Britain back in the late autumn. He is a thoughtful type and recently studied applied ecology at Ostrava University. In recent years he has earned himself a reputation as a plausible expert on dragon flies and, aside from a couple of sentences in the final paragraph on the subject of a forthcoming album his latest tour was intended to promote (at the packed Akropolis gig he admitted it had been delayed), he spoke about entomology. This gave me plenty to reflect upon, and many words to look up. I have mentioned elsewhere that I have a sourdough baking habit. This now led Woodstock to mention that we should have brought back some of the spa water and that I could have used it to feed my culture. This was a good point, of course, and, though I did not dismiss it, I reacted by saying that the culture could do something to process any impurities. This is possibly true, though not necessarily so, and it must surely depend upon the impurities. It was, however, a natural first reaction which reflected some of the doubts I have about spa waters. Woodstock reacted to it, equally naturally, by taking offence. The waters are pure, she said, and the various outlets, many of which are found in the forest, are straight from the source. I did not so much defend my reaction – I said repeatedly I know nothing about the purity of the waters – but I did say that all of these sources were very close to built-up areas with a high turist throughput. There are hundreds of people staying in hotels often high up on the hill. In addition, however clean the air and environment may be in the region, the forest seemed dead to me. Mushrooms and trees aside, there was no discernable life there. Only once while we were out for several hours did we hear bird song. I talked about Barta and his comments about the decline of insect life in the Czech Republic in general. I also mentioned the Christmas address of the president Miloš Zeman in which he dismissed the idea that humans cause climate change. In this he echoed the thoughts of his predecessor, Václav Klaus, though not that of Václav Havel who himself preceded Klaus's two terms; Havel, according to Jacques Rupnik in a dispiritingly penetrating interview in Tvar magazine on the subject of democracy in post-communist Europe, first spoke of the dangers of the West's fixation on “growth of growth” back in the 1970s.[^1] Some of Woodstock's favourite memories from childhood are from this town and this was for a time too much for her to confront. She cried before acknowledging that she had noticed the forest, though beautiful, was hardly teeming with life. One of the questions posed in the interview with Bárta mentioned monocultures and, alongside the rapeseed often linked to prime minister Andrej Babiš and certainly promoted by the European Union (Wikipedia has it that 17% of agricultural land is given over to the crop), was spruce. The question related to the alarming decline in insect numbers and diversity that has been witnessed recently. It touched upon the belief of Czech Entomologist Vojtěch Novotný that this collapse of biodiversity due to the change in the environment through monocultures and intensive farming inving the use of pesticides is currently a more pressing issue even than that of climate change. Bárta agreed with this and had already mentioned that he had, with a colleague, observed such a decline in Borneo where huge areas of rainforest have been given over to palm oil plantations. In Vietnam and China, he noted, it was truly dead. While the same might not be said to the same degree of Mariánské Lázně, these tendencies are literally global and so if the waters are anything like as pure and as curative as they were believed to be in the city's long gone heyday (a statue of King Edward VII and emporer Franz addorns the square near the empty plot where the synagogue stood until Kristallnacht), then it is a miracle. Bárta is no fool. Though he evidently has sufficient grounding in his pastime to pursue it as seriously as did Nabokov he dismisses with a laugh the idea of studying ecology further by remarking that had he wanted to substitute a career as a below-average scientist for his career as an above-average singer, he ought to have thought of it sooner. It is to be expected then that he has a greater grasp of where we are now than the vast majority of Google-whacking hacks banging out Facebook-friendly think pieces on how the presentarion of any plausibly realistic scenario is an instant turn off for the majority of the adult population in the Schumpeter-style transactional democracies we know today. And so it is. He talks of the wetlands which have suffered in the Czech Republic, the places he used to travel to and which now have little to offer. “It is something I genuinely regret. To the point of despair. I am sad about it, truly[...] I imagine a way for [these creatures] to live but right now I am sceptical.” “Why?” “If we cannot demostrate that a certain creature is directly useful for people or that in nature something prevents it from living which is poisonous to people – or, more to the point, children – nothing will change. Most people, and this does not surprise me, are not at all interested in hymenoptera. If somebody says, off the top of my head, that [a number of species of heteroptera as yet unknown to Czech Wikipedia] and who knows what else, have definitively disappeared from Českolipsko, which will have a pernicious effect on the the growth of Forking larkspur, what should the layperson do about it when it doesn't change the price of a bread roll by a nano-penny?” “But”, counters the interviewer, “when somebody such as yourself knows how to appealingly and urgently talk about it, emotions may be raised.” “I don't think so,” he replies, at first in English. And then comes the kicker. “But fine, in theory then it could have a kind of influence on responsible people, local public servants, politicians; that kind of information ought to resonate with them so far as they are not uninformed blockheads, which they often are, but I cannot want from a mother with four children to torment herself with the news on page seven of a regional newspaper that [a specific type of miridae]'s days are numbered.” And this is more or less where we end up. It is in the public interest, he says, to build motorways that create jobs and connections between regions. It is also in the public interest to not build motorways, to preserve the countryside and not create barriers. We have known this conflict for decades. In the end, he says, there will be neither nature nor motorways. The public interest is trumped by the private interests of proactive individuals who don't worry their heads about either rules or the public interest. There will be a plantation. A Chinese plantation. It is not only the de facto festival of capitalism that is Christmas that has put me in a bad mood this last few weeks. The British general election of the 12th of December that was a culmination of the generalised cybernetic anarcho-capitalist putsch of the last decade helped. I am blessed and cursed by a nature that prevents me from choosing a fairytale (and especially that default neoliberal fairytale that prevails in the post-communist lands of Europe) over the brutal fact of the decline of nature and the systemically-related decline in liberty. Still, and if I am certainly guilty of the kind of hopelessness Bárta discusses, I would like to attempt at least to defend myself against the charges of pessimism I might be charged with. To do so, I must, I suppose, tell something of my own story. For years I was in a bad way. Differently than I might be thought now. For similar reasons (though we tend with the hubris that is common to humans to overlook these similarities), that the elusive klopuška zelenoškvrná, modroškvrná, nohatá are in a bad way, I did not thrive. I suffered from depression, from a lack of the powers of executive function which could help me adjust to my environment.[^2] Moving from one environment to another, so far as it was possible, did not do much to help my situation. I found the energy and resources to confront my situation. This was hard, as my situation, objectively, gave little grounds for hope. By degrees and over two decades I changed my environment. I took pains to change my diet from the standard one available to me, so full as it was of neurotoxins and chemicals pernicious to my nature, and so distant from the nutrients that ought to be present in the earth we live from. I turned myself around. Having done so, I confronted a different difficulty, one of finding a living for myself. I am still confronting this, and it gives little grounds for optimism. I found the right path, but few people wanted me to succeed, and few people believe in it even now. Still I believe that the only way to change a situation is to confront it fully. To cry about it, yes – this is healthy – and then, in seeing it, to move forward based upon what we know, and what we thereby know to be right. If few of the powers that be have deigned to reflect for even a moment on what we are doing to the planet and the world we are passing on to our children; if then those who claim to give a damn claim to be doing something about it primarily by placing the burdens on individuals who are scarcely able to make a living in this increasingly hostile world and whose cumulative financial power is nothing compared to those who would have us burn fossil fuels until the whole world goes up in smoke; and if those who know most about the living world are the most depressed about its condition; then still, the objective odds I once facd that I could one day write even so infinitessimally impactful a piece as this, were at least as short. Now that I am where I am, now that I have made myself who I now am, and though that looks little enough to most people who know the facts of my life and the miserable chance I have to make a living, and though I have zero pragmatic reason to believe that I could make any difference in the world, we have all of us sleepwalked through the Silent Spring and find ourselves in a silent winter, our Earth is dying and burning and it is precisely because I know precisely what can be most beautiful in this world and because I believe it is worth preserving, that I believe that we as humans have a responsibility to imagine the way out of this. Here and elsewhere I will not hold back from attempting to meticulously describe precisely how utterly discredited are our current systems. Nor, though, will I evade the duty I feel I have to search for the people and ideas I believe to be capable of making the right kind of difference. I have been doing this work for some years. I have received not a penny for any of it. In 2020 and beyond I hope at least to persuade a small but, I hope, increasing number of responsible people, to donate money so that I can continue to do so. I do not always believe that this will happen any more that I always believe that we will succeed in defunding oil and surevillance capitalism. This, however, is a version of Pascal's wager forked for the a variant of the Gaia hypothesis and since all of the fairytales and utopias on offer will, like Fentanyl, have diminishing returns, the alternative to it is grim indeed.

[^1]: Some have connected Havel's thought to the Club of Rome whether or not this is so, it is evident that the intellectual cleavages we see today (the densely-monied “gravity wells” we tend to accelerate towards, clumping arbitrarily with our fellow travellers), that is the clusters of PowerPointable mental maps we can find in newspapers or distilled into memes as concentrated as tabs of acid, are more or less backwards compatible versions either of the outputs of the Club of Rome, or of the lesser-known groupings Klaus and others involved themselves with. One of these strains is straightforwardly authoritarian, the other is straightforwardly elitist, both are differently utopian and each proffer a manner of packaging the results of a process of thought so that it may be distributed for mass consumption. It may be wise to acknowledge this.

[^2]: It is common in some quarters to talk about being well-adjusted. Surely by now we can see that many people adjusted too much to a system that has rarely given us fewer grounds for pride in our powers of judgement and invention. To my mind, many children who are variously dismissed as being more or less ineducable, as having “special educational needs”, are in fact victims of environments that are hostile to humanity. The environment of the majority of contemporary schools are optimised for a tiny subset of human temperaments. This subset is then optimised for in the job market. This leaves millions marginal and, in the parlance of our time, “unproductive”. Increasingly, I believe that the Rudolf Steiner types I once worked with are, though they may be bonkers, absolutely correct about the impact of a society that has all but done away with the crafts and trades which once permitted humans to flourish in ways we have long forgotten. I am personally done with adjusting to systems I consider dangerous. That these systems are all powerful and though I constantly have the feeling they would rather I were dead does not change this fact since in the decades I attempted to adjust to them, they never considered me sufficiently well-adjusted to provide me with a means to live my life.